By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
February 26, 2010: 3D TV, a category still in its infancy but with a potential multibillion-dollar upside, is beginning to gain some momentum among consumers as manufacturers and entertainment production companies commit more time, technology and financial resources to it. But concerns such as costs, lack of content and the inconvenience of wearing 3D-capable glasses or other devices are major roadblocks for a vast majority of those people who are being targeted to drive category growth.
The cost of a 3D TV and the cost of getting 3D content on their TV were concerns for more than 60% of consumers, and the possibility of having to pay more for 3D content from their cable provider was a drawback for 64% of consumers, according to Snapshot Report: 3D Television, a new study from marketing and research firm NPD Group, Port Washington, NY.
The NPD 3D survey also found that the limited amount of content that will be available in the near future was sited as a concern by 39% of consumers. In addition, the inconvenience of wearing 3D glasses was sited as an inhibitor for 53% of consumers. NPD said 3D glasses would also add to the cost of viewing 3D content.
Led by sports and Hollywood, though, content is coming. The fledgling category received a major boost in January when ESPN, owned by entertainment giant Disney Co., said it would unveil what it called "the industry’s first 3D television network" on June 11 with a 2010 FIFA World Cup match between South Africa vs. Mexico. Sony has also aligned with Discovery Communications and IMAX to launch a TV network by 2012 devoted entirely to 3D programming.
NPD said that its online survey of more than 2,000 adults was conducted in late 2009, which was prior the ESPN and Sony/IMAX announcements.
When Sony disclosed its 3D plans with ESPN and Discovery/IMAX earlier this year, Howard Stringer, chairman, CEO and president of Sony said he was confident about the future of the technology. "It is clear to us that consumers will always migrate to a better and richer entertainment experience," he said in a statement.
That expressed optimism about 3D TV is contingent about marketers buying in. Sony is now the exclusive ESPN 3D sponsor of 13 regular season college football games, including the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, and the 2010 Summer X Games, where ESPN will utilize Sony HD cameras. ESPN said that its Innovation Lab at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando would be the center of its 3D testing and enhancement efforts, and also said it would invite other companies to use the facility to help develop their 3D technology.
Commercials are initially likely to include trailers from the growing number of movie companies that shoot major motion pictures in 3D, followed by what could be billed as the "3D network broadcast premiere" of the movies themselves.. About 20 films were released in 3D in 2009, led by 20th Century Fox' Avatar; and about 20 are planned for 2010, including Alice in Wonderland from Disney and Toy Story 3, which is from Disney/Pixar.
During Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, DreamWorks joined with PepsiCo's SoBe to run a 90-second 3D spot for the movie studio's then upcoming animated release, Monsters vs. Aliens. The next night, NBC, which aired the Super Bowl, ran an episode of Chuck in 3D. This year, Visa filmed some of its "Go World" spots supporting the Winter Olympics in 3D, which it ran at events in New York, San Francisco and Olympic host city Vancouver. "3D is gaining momentum in the advertising and marketing space," said David Lane, vp-Digital Media CBS Outdoor, which established Visa's presentation at New York's Grand Central Terminal.
However, the category is so raw that participants cannot agree on how many 3D TV sets will be sold in 2010. Sears this week broke ground by becoming the first national U.S. retailer to take orders for 3D TVs, a 46" screen (MSRP $2,599 and a 55" screen ($3,299), both from Samsung. Samsung said it anticipates selling more than 2 million 3D sets in 2010.
The Consumer Electronics Assn. has been fluctuating on the number of 3D TVs it believes will be sold this year. Last December, the CEA put the figure at about 2 million, doubled its estimate at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, then cut back to about 1 million in a statement released this week.
The latter number is mirrored by DisplaySearch, a division of NPD Group, which anticipates 1.2 million 3D-capable TVs will ship in 2010, with that number growing to 9 million in 2012 and 15.6 million in 2013, according to its "Quarterly TV Design and Features Report."
In addition to Sony and Samsung, companies currently in the process of ramping up the manufacture and shipping of TVs with 3D capability include Panasonic, LG, Toshiba and Vizio, which among its products has a 72" 3D set that will go for $3,500.
"The anticipation for the 3D experience at home has been mounting, and we're giving our shoppers a competitive edge by being one of the first retailers to offer these products," Karen Austin, president of home electronics for Sears Holdings, said in a statement. "Our availability of Samsung's 3D products further extends our commitment to ensure that Sears shoppers have access to the latest home electronics offerings. With technology moving so fast this is a unique opportunity for consumers to get ahead of the technology curve."
ESPN 3D is scheduled to showcase a minimum of 85 live sporting events during its first year, including FIFA World Cup matches, the Summer X Games, college basketball and college football, which would include the BCS National Championship.
“Manufacturers are counting on 3D to accelerate the replacement cycle the way HD did,” Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis at NPD, said in a statement. “Early adopters will look past significant price premiums and limited optimized content in the name of bringing home even more of the cinematic experience as they find 3D capabilities included among other premium features.”
ESPN has been testing 3D TV for about two years. Last September, ESPN produced the USC vs. OSU college football game in 3D, which was shown on the USC campus and in theaters in Ohio, Texas and Connecticut. ESPN also has produced college football and basketball games in 3D for test purposes, and shot its 2009 Summer X-Games in 3D for theatrical release this past August.
The NFL broadcast the San Diego Chargers-Oakland Raiders game in December 2008 in HD 3D, which was seen by select audiences in New York, Boston and Los Angeles. Fox and Sony in January 2009 broadcast the FedEx BCS National Championship college football game between Florida and Oaklahoma at Dolphin Stadium [now Sun Life Stadium] to fans in some 80 3D-equipped theaters. And the NBA and Turner Sports aired an HD 3D test broadcast to select theaters during the skills event on All-Star Saturday Night in Phoenix last February. An NBA game in March 2008 between the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs was shown in 3D at Dallas theaters under the auspices of Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban. In December, the Dallas Cowboys tested a 3D concept in their new Cowboys Stadium by showing action in 3D on its state-of-the-art $40 million HD screen. It received mixed reviews in a limited run - including the fact that fans did not want to wear the 3D glasses - and has not yet been tried again.
ESPN, for one, says it has the answer to the question, 3D TV or not 3D TV?
”ESPN’s commitment to 3D is a win for fans and our business partners,” George Bodenheimer, co-chairman, Disney Media Networks, and president, ESPN and ABC Sports, said in a statement when the channel was announced. “ESPN 3D marries great content with new technology to enhance the fan’s viewing experience and puts ESPN at the forefront of the next big advance for TV viewing.”